As we’ve previously discussed, Gossip may be defined as “any type of harmful or hurtful communication that is not absolutely necessary to share.”
This brings up the question, “What is necessary to share?” And, “Is there a ‘test’ of sorts we can give ourselves in order to be sure that divulging this information is the correct course of action?”
Asking ourselves these questions assures us we are displaying a true concern with doing what’s right and using our gift of speech correctly and ethically.
To answer the first question: If divulging a particular piece of information would protect someone’s health (i.e., physical, emotional, financial, etc.), then not only is it “okay” to share it but, according to the Laws of Proper Speech, it’s a requirement to do so.
In other words, one is allowed to communicate information that reflects negatively on a person if there is a clear, positive, constructive purpose – such as, you are trying to help the person with whom you are sharing it. There is a big difference between relating that someone is a convicted embezzler simply for entertainment value, and warning a person who is considering hiring that person as their bookkeeper.
To answer the second question regarding a qualification process in order to ensure we are acting properly in our disclosure of said information, let’s refer to an expert in this area.
Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Director of the Business Response Forum at the Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology, suggests that disclosing information you believe would be helpful is subject to, what he calls, the “ABC’s of disclosure”*
According to Rabbi Meir, You should make sure:
The information is *A*ccurate.
That disclosure is critical to achieve some *B*enefit.
That you are *C*ertain of the information.
That your *D*esire is constructive.
That the information will be used for benefit in an *E*quitable way.
Of course, he also suggests asking yourself, “Is revealing the information *necessary*?”
One more qualification I’ve heard from several teachers on this topic that I believe is very important: relaying this negative information should not in any way be joyful. If it is, it might be gossip. Any time we must share information that reflects badly on another should be a source of discomfort for us. Sometimes, however, it is indeed the right thing to do.
*Rabbi Meir’s, “ABC’s of disclosure” was excerpted from another article published by JTC copyright 2002).
Special Note: The information in these articles regarding the topic of Gossip are based on Lori Palatnik’s and my 2002 book, Gossip: Ten Pathways To Eliminate It From Your Life And Transform Your Soul.